How Critics Ruin Television

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He didn't do it. Oops, spoiler alert!

Apparently, most critics hated the season finale of The Killing. That isn’t notable. What is notable is why.

This is one of the most frustrating season finales in TV history. After a whole season in which Sud and her writers gave little (if any) indication that they didn’t know how to properly pace a story line to maintain interest over multiple episodes (to say nothing of multiple seasons), it’s infuriating to see them introduce a bunch of twists at the end of the finale – Todd VanDerWerff, LA Times

This opinion isn’t unique. But it is nothing short of amazing that people who are employed to critique television were under the assumption that the killing central to the show called The Killing would be explained in the season finale. These are the people that have to power to make or break shows. These are the kinds of people who didn’t like Inception because it was “too complicated.”

Any critic who assumed AMC would reveal the killer in the season finale needs to be fired immediately. Let me walk you through how TV works. If you explain the killing at the end of the first season of the show called The Killing, there is no killing left for the second season of The Killing to be about. Duh. This is a money-making operation, and you make money by getting people to watch.

“But that’s not what they did in the original Danish series.” And that’s why nobody watches Danish television. And that is also why, with the exception of British television, any US remake of any foreign film or TV is always better (and yes, nerds, this includes The Ring).

I knew with absolute certainty that they would not reveal the killer at the end of this season, and I am pretty confident they won’t definitively explain it all until the end of the series. For the same reason, I knew that the characters’ situation and the island on Lost would never be fully explained until the absolute end. Similarly, we didn’t really get a full understanding of the aliens and government conspiracy in the X-Files until the very end. Even Twin Peaks didn’t reveal Laura Palmer’s killer until the middle of the second season, after which the shows ratings collapsed, because, surprise! there was no reason to watch anymore.

This is how all these show’s work, do critics actually not realize this? Did people actually watch Lost week after week thinking that this week’s episode would explain it all? If a show is built around a mystery, the mystery will not be explained until as late as possible, which means the end of the series or as a desperate attempt to punch up ratings.

Genre television truly broke sometime between X-Files and Alias, shows which overlapped for a season. Somewhere in that time frame, critics and networks execs came to the brilliant conclusion that the problem with the X-Files was that it wasn’t about Mulder and Sculley’s burgeoning romance. If there was a problem with the X-Files, it was that they didn’t make The Smoking Man even more enigmatic. “But babies and kisses and relationships!” Die.

“we don’t really watch these shows for the mysteries, we watch them to see the relationships and learn about the characters, etc.” Wrong. I have relationships in real life. The people I know in real life have a deep and rich backstory and an unpredictable but riveting character arc.

What I don’t have in real life is a government conspiracy to conceal the existence of extraterrestrials. I feel that this is something my life is sorely missing. I’m also not currently investigating the puzzling murder of a local high school girl with the assistance of either a creepy backwards talking dream dwarf or an ex-tweeker narc. I’m not stranded on a weird time traveling island that may or may not be a DoD black project. Because I don’t have these things, and these things are interesting, I watch television for them.

I couldn’t care less about whether Freckles and Haircut fall in love or who the father of Blondie’s baby is. (Guess how many shows this applies to.) Days of Our Lives has been on TV for nine thousand years and I’ve never felt compelled to watch it.

I knew that I would hate Lost when in the first season, J.J. Abrams gave an interview and said the show was really about the relationships between the characters and not the island. Fast forward six years and what happens at the end? The characters basically go to heaven and live happily ever after. Thank you for not challenging my religious worldview, Walt Disney Corporation! Good luck with your next iteration of Sweet Valley High meets Robinson Crusoe

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24 Responses to How Critics Ruin Television

  1. Valerick80 says:

    If you explain the killing at the end of the first season of the show called The Killing, there is no killing left for the second season of The Killing to be about. Duh.

    I assumed it would be like 24 and a new mystery would kick off the second season. Because I’m stupid, clearly.

  2. Guy Fox says:

    But Mommy! I want the Gummi Bears right now!

    With such demands for soonish gratification, they’re going to have to make multi-season series with level bosses at the end of each season. Come to think of it, that seems to happen pretty consistently in Mad Men.

    • Hypocrisy Illustrated says:

      While I really enjoyed Detective Lund, but couldn’t wait either for the broadcast of the rest of the story, so I ran out and got the DVD for the whole series of The Killing in Copenhagen. Watching it all in one shot was probably a mistake though. Some of the plot turns stretched credibility.

      As far as the critics being unsatisfied about the central conflict remaining unresolved, they must realise that without that conflict to drive the narrative, there is no reason for anybody to be interested. Sometimes when I finish novels, I’m relieved when is tension wound down when the conflict is resolved, but I’m sad that the story (and my diversion) are over and wish for continuation of the story with the characters that I’ve gotten to know and grown to love. I’m sure that the critics understand that without the conflict there is no story and I’m sure that the writers could come up with a new premise and a new story to keep the characters busy.

      Don’t much care for marshmallows, but I have a hard time resisting something I do enjoy.

      Gimme Gummi Bears! Now!!

      So do you all think that The Killing in Seattle is at least better than The Killing in Copenhagen? I’m not sure I’m interested in a Seattle version; really liked the mood and characters from Copenhagen.

      • Comus says:

        Yeah, I also regressed into a self-reflectatory loop, as even though my head was filled with bad US remakes, good ones were hard to find. The British comedy remakes are of course terrible, but also some movie remakes, like Nikita or Let the Right One In.

        Still waiting for those Kiezslowski remakes as action thrillers starring Nicholas Cage.

  3. W.Kasper says:

    “But that’s not what they did in the original Danish series.” And that’s why nobody watches Danish television.

    … er…. I believe Danish people do. I’ve even known a fair few Brits to enjoy it. You may have had the (soon-to-be-over) American Century, but it’s not quite the American Universe, despite Green Lantern’s best efforts. Outside the Frontier, where we’re supposedly too Communist, intellectual, effeminate or Islamic to speak Los Angelino, it’s taken as a given that US remakes of foreign product are insultingly awful. No prizes for guessing why Americans may believe otherwise…

  4. operator says:

    Any critic who assumed AMC would reveal the killer in the season finale needs to be fired immediately.

    Perhaps, like the rest of the news, the TV critic is employed to stir up the echo chamber for the impatient audience. (Harsh words or not, so long as people are talking about the show it’s unlikely to be cancelled)

    What I don’t have in real life is a government conspiracy to conceal the existence of extraterrestrials.

    Instead, you have a government conspiracy to get people to believe it’s concealing (and “accidentally” declassifying) the existence of extraterrestrials.

    Because I don’t have these things, and these things are interesting, I watch television for them.

    If anything, the critics ruin everything by reminding those who pay attention that they’re being strung along in the interest of selling advertising. You sure you don’t already have enough [product name]?

  5. PerhapsAnAttic says:

    Doing what a good American does best, you’re unequivocally wrong. The Killing is being shit on, rightfully, by critics because the way the writers advance the story is by blatantly lying over and over. That’s not how good mystery is written. Good mystery is more subtle: here’s a clue, and here’s a clue, and let the audience make it’s own decisions. Instead, The Killing beat us over the head with who we were supposed to think is the killer, and then said, nope, sorry! That’s frustrating. It’s testing the audience as idiots.

    Your argument that if they had given away the killer this season there would be no reason to watch next season is…misinformed? Idiotic? Formed without attention to the craft? Yeah, let’s go with that one. Damages, Durham Coumty, Luther, and –hey, lets throw it in there– The Wire are all good examples of how a series solves the arc for the season but leaves enough unanswered to keep people curious forge next season. Alan Sepinwall, The Ruiner of TV, made a good comparison between Game of Thrones and The Killing. Both had season finales in which very little happened, but one did it well, the other shit the bed.

    • Dirk Anger says:

      I was thinking of The Wire too, it was also one case for each season but it left enough to be interested in the next season, while also giving a sense of closure for the “case of the season” in case it got cancelled, and at the same time, giving one new piece of the puzzle that was the actual point of the series in each season. The Wire did this brilliantly, that’s how you do “one case per season”. But given how it was received, I guess PB is right about critics, only for the wrong reasons.

      About The Killing: the thing with the teacher was so ham-handed I think it could not be a more obvious red herring, and I guess they counted on us thinking that and just staying for the ride and see where that took us, but I’m thinking they didn’t need to drag it for so long.
      I think they’re going to solve the case in the first episode of the second season and start with a new one, and all of the cliffhangers were just meant to make us start watching it. I hope I’m wrong, because alienating your audience is not a really good idea. Ask Lost, people may just stop watching altogether.

  6. robotslave says:

    Partial Objects needs women!

    And how.

    Really, if you’re so very good at decoding the media and stuff, how on earth do you miss the subtext and intended audience when someone from the Planet of the Television Executives starts telling you that a sci-fi/crime/western show is “really about relationships?”

    • fireandvice says:

      There are women on Partial Objects. . . Somewhere.

      If an exec has to say specifically ” this show is really about the relationships”, then it is most definitely not targeted at women.

      • robotslave says:

        Bzzzt.

        The intended audience for such remarks is not “women”, the intended audience is “advertisers.” And the subtext is not “this show is targetted at women”, but rather “we will deliver a large, mixed demo, not a male-dominated niche market.”

    • Dirk Anger says:

      I was thinking the same thing yesterday, I haven’t noticed any, in the posts or in the comments

      • cat says:

        Hi there!

        But how do you know which commenters are women and which are men? Or can you mysteriously tell from the way people write?

        Anyway:

        “And that is also why, with the exception of British television, any US remake of any foreign film or TV is always better to an American audience in Americaland, the only place that really exists

        Fixed it for you.

        • Dirk Anger says:

          Depending on what the theme is, there’s nothing mysterious about it (I may be just imagining things, but I’m under the impression that there’s a lot of “us men ___” comments for none of the opposite)

  7. inarticulateinthecity says:

    Sorry, but I disliked it because it was LAME. And you used the same strategy of kids who hang around IMDB posts, “Ooooh, if you didn’t like this movie why don’t you go watch your Michael Bay movies instead?”

    Besides the ridiculous cliffhangers and way-too-obvious, EXTREMELY IN YOUR FACE red herrings The Killing has, there was no climax to the end. If you want to finish with some cliffhanger for the next season, at least LEARN HOW TO MAKE ONE.

    This show is LAME.

  8. TTFIO says:

    You really nailed my feelings about Lost. Whenever I think of those 127 hours spent watching that show…

    At least Aron Ralston got a fucking book and TV deal out of his…

  9. eqv says:

    any US remake of any foreign film or TV is always better (and yes, nerds, this includes The Ring).

    Uh? What about Let the Right One In?

  10. SeanM says:

    “That isn’t notable. What is notable is why.”

    Not trying to be snarky, but can we leave out the not notables and assume that what the article is about is notable from here on?

  11. The Japanese, besides all the never-ending shonen series, also produce a lot of anime series which have from the beginning a finite number of episodes. They are not forced to be kept running until they become horrible, which may be preferable to certain people. This gets then expressed in the culture, even though it may not be optimal from the point of profit maximization. Capitalistic interests play a role, but they must not necessarily be everything.

    That is just to comment something besides all the other error in the post that have been pointed out in other comments.

  12. cauchies_br says:

    American remakes always better hmmm… no.
    The Danish version is way better.
    That one was easy.

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